01/25/11 10:03am
01/25/2011 10:03 AM

As a child you probably have memories of turning over your Etch-a-Sketch and shaking it to get a blank screen so you could draw new pictures. That is, in essence, what the Riverhead Town Board is about to do at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL. The former Grumman property has been at the core of many bad plans and dreams. We had the failed Wilpon housing proposal and talk of a movie studio and a full-time carnival. Most recently, two transactions fell by the wayside as the Rechler deal became a housing proposal and the ski mountain folks could not meet their contractual deadlines.

So now the slate is clean and we begin anew. With EPCAL unencumbered let’s craft a real plan that will tap the site’s true potential as a high technology economic generator for our region — one that is tied to the institutions we know, such as Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The wonderful part about this is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get such a vision accomplished.

Recently, the Town Board and I visited Devens, Mass. Devens is a stretch of land cut across four towns and is the site of the former army base, Fort Devens. Upon the fort’s closing, the land was sold to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for reuse. What we saw in Devens were attractive, well-maintained buildings housing companies like Bristol Myers and a host of other clean employers. Unlike Riverhead, Devens got it right, and local and state officials have turned their land into a productive parcel that creates clean jobs and tax base.

Why did Devens do it right and we are floundering? I think for two major reasons.

One, we tend to politicize EPCAL. Each campaign season brings with it new gimmicks and schemes for projects that “might be coming soon” to the former Grumman site, all of which have no real backing, plan or prayer of ever coming to fruition. For all too long, EPCAL has been the place you go if you have a dollar and a dream. That might make for good headlines but it doesn’t make for sound development and tax base.

Two, our approach to EPCAL has not been all that comprehensive. Right now if a potential developer has a project they’d like to bring to Riverhead they have to visit our planning department, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Department of Transportation, Suffolk County Department of Health and Human Services and myriad other agencies before the developer can receive approval to stick a shovel in the ground. This is a two-year process loaded with red tape. There are too many competing agencies and too many voices in the mix, and the approval process is too cumbersome.

So how do we put EPCAL on a path that will yield results and create clean, well-paying jobs that will create tax base for

Riverhead? I think we need the following simple action plan:

One, we need to update our reuse plan for EPCAL that will once and for all make certain what uses shall and shall not be permitted, along with a defined set of development criteria . Once we have put the use debate to an end we can begin to recruit businesses that match our vision for the land, a vision I believe should be tied to hi-tech innovation clusters.

Two, we need to create a clearinghouse agency that will unite all the voices in the permitting process under one roof. At Fort Devens, a potential business owner can go from the concept stage to obtaining building permits within 75 days. It is a sad day when New York State cannot even compete with Massachusetts.

I am not advocating that the town lose control over development at EPCAL, but, look, we have been at this for 12 years and we have not even come close to recreating what the town lost when Grumman left. The streamlined approval process will allow developers certainty as they look to invest in these tough economic times. If a CEO knows he or she can receive approval for a project by a definite date, that will go a long way toward the selection of Riverhead as a future home.

There is nothing unique in Massachusetts that means the people there can develop Devens and we in Riverhead and in New York cannot develop EPCAL. It simply takes a vision and follow-through. Recently, I met with Senator Charles Schumer to discuss his plan to unite the strength of Brookhaven National Lab, Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Lab under one roof to create a “Silicon Valley East.” Given our resources and people, there is no reason such a plan cannot become a reality. These are the kinds of projects we should be angling for at EPCAL so that our valuable land brings us wealth, tax base and prosperity — and is not just a field of dreams.

Mr.Walter is the Riverhead Town supervisor and an attorney. He lives in Wading River.

01/17/11 11:37am
01/17/2011 11:37 AM

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Reading a follow-up story last week on the tragedy in Tucson in The Other Times headlined “Sadness aside, no shift seen on gun laws,” I was drawn to a comment from Congressman Mike Pence. When questioned about the prospects for new gun restrictions, he was quoted as replying, “I maintain that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens makes communities safer, not less safe.”

The assertion of the Indiana lawmaker, who until this month chaired the House Republican Conference and is considering running for president, was hardly remarkable; indeed, it was the kind of knee-jerk response from defenders of gun rights to which we’ve become all too accustomed after someone commits mass murder in this country.

Isn’t it time for some fresh thinking on this matter of life-and-death importance?

America has more firearms per capita than any other leading industrial democracy. So, if widespread firearm ownership does, in fact, make a country safer, ours should be among the safest. Right?

OK, you’ve already guessed the answer. But since it warrants relentless repetition so that even politicians like Mike Pence become receptive to new approaches to reducing firearm deaths, I’ll give it to you anyway. Here goes, courtesy of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which found that the U.S. firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people was:

• 5 times that of Canada.

•13 times that of Germany.

•19 times that of Australia.

•24 times that of Spain.

•44 times that of England and Wales.

The organization’s findings are reinforced by a study of firearm deaths from all causes, homicides, suicides and accidental deaths, that found that among 23 populous, high-income countries four in every five such deaths occurred in the United States.

“Compared with other high-income countries, homicide is a particular problem for the United States, largely due to firearm homicide,” concluded Erin G. Richardson and David Hemenway, the authors of the study published last year in the Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care.

Their study showed that the U.S. had an overall homicide rate nearly seven times higher than the other nations, reflecting a firearm homicide rate that was nearly 20 times higher. And, as we know, some who commit murder with a gun in America do so with a weapon they obtained legally, as apparently happened in Tucson.

Moreover, although the non-firearm suicide rate in America was only 40 percent as great as in the other nations, the study found that the firearm suicide rate in the U.S. was nearly six times higher, more than offsetting the lower number. And the accidental firearm death rate in the U.S. was 5 1/2 times higher than the rate in these other countries.

Surely such profoundly sobering statistics should be part of a national conversation about whether there’s safety in numbers where firearms are concerned.

Let the conversation begin.

Mr. Henry resides in Orient.

01/10/11 2:58pm
01/10/2011 2:58 PM

Before the Riverhead school board considers terminating me at its meeting Tuesday night, effectively ending my career as a school business official, I would like to list some of the cost savings I have generated for the taxpayers of Riverhead. First, I should receive some acknowledgement for initiating the bond refund (or refinance) process for the district’s 2002 bonds.  Moody’s upgraded the district after they reviewed our financials and talked to me for over an hour on a conference call. Through this the district will save $443,000 over 8 years.

Other area of savings over the last 2 years:

• Pre-K grant. This grant was administered by then-deputy superintendent Nancy Carney in 2008. The district was applying for $166,000 of the  $266,000 alloted by the state. Mr. Carney was leaving $100,00 “on the table.” During a high level review, I suggested that district provided transportation costs could legally be charged to the grant which would result in a $100,000 savings from the general fund. Ms. Carney thought that this would not be allowed by the state but it was and the district will have saved $300,000 over this three-year period.

• Jail education billing errors. By researching invoices and meeting with members of the state Department of Education. In Albany, I discovered that charges of approximately $50,000 a year were being erroneously billed to Riverhead. Student inmates considered homeless were being classified a Riverhead residents and the district was being charged. This practice has now ended.

• Review of state aid that district receives for transportation costs. I have been conducting a review with Amala Cain and believe the Riverhead district will receive an additional $300,000 in transportation aid in 2012.

I believe I have also saved at least an additional $500,000 by purchasing off of State Contracts and by joining the Long Island Child Nutrition Co-op.  I feel I have made great strides at Riverhead in the areas of cost savings and cost control. I haven’t even addressed the area of special education costs and Medicaid reimbursement. There is still a lot of work to do and I am willing to do it. I believe the taxpayers, students and staff feel I am a good fit for Riverhead.

Too bad the superintendent and board don’t see it that way.

I also was responsible for bringing in the “bold systems” election management tool that computerized the election process for the district. This helped the district clerk  to get away from the old paper books. The district can now track who voted in each election in real time. It is also a great tool to have during close elections.

I am a worker who gets things done. I admit that I do need to improve my skills at office politics.

Mr. Ivanoff of Lindenhurst is the deputy superintendent of finance in Riverhead schools. He was dismissed from his post Dec. 1. His recommended termination will be voted on at the Jan. 11 school board meeting.

See previous coverage:

Embattled school administrator: Fire me and I’ll sue

Ex-Riverhead schools boss takes assistant superintendent post

12/07/10 2:11pm
12/07/2010 2:11 PM

I read with interest Democratic Party Chairman Vinny Villella’s column last week [Dec. 2] about the Riverhead budget process this year. Mr. Villella attempts to pull budget numbers out of context and patchwork them into a sinister story about how this year’s budget was adopted.  In all fairness to our Riverhead Town supervisor, Mr. Walter, and this Town Board, I found Mr. Villella’s criticism unfair and smacking a little of partisan politics. After all, I think that our former supervisor, Democrat Phil Cardinale has to accept at least some of the blame for our current situation. Of course, being the leader of a political party myself, I suppose I could be painted with the same brush, so let’s instead look at the facts.

This year, in a completely refreshing way, the Town Board was honest with taxpayers and issued a budget that did not employ one-shot tax gimmicks to cover up budget shortfalls. This Town Board did not exaggerate revenue sources with fictitious land sales, pie-in-the-sky resort plans and unrealized lawsuit settlements, as was done in the 2010 budget. This Town Board took the bold step of reducing town employees and salaries, something which takes conscience and courage to do. This Town Board, saddled with huge increases in health care benefits, insurance and the debt from Mr. Cardinale’s landfill were able to make tough choices and still reduce town spending and they did it all in an open, transparent fashion.

No one likes to see people lose their jobs, but the reality is that 75 percent of the town’s budget goes to pay salaries. What cost cutting measures would Mr. Villella or Mr. Cardinale propose to reduce spending and why didn’t either one of them do so when they were supervisor? On Jan. 1, Riverhead will be without a number of part-time employees making less than $10,000 per year yet receiving more than $18,000 in health benefits. We have reduced the overall workforce while still maintaining the same level of service to the residents.

We can attempt to put a high-gloss shine on the story but when it comes right down to it, the people spoke on Election Day and they called for reduced government spending and a reduction in the size of government. In a time where the State of New York’s pension and health care systems increased the town’s cost by $1.6 million dollars, this budget reduced overall town spending by almost $800,000.

For too long the town has operated as if it had an unlimited credit limit and we only had to pay the minimum balance. The tax increase that the town has adopted is far less than what would have been required had we continued along the same path. The bottom line is, something had to be done and Mr. Walter has shown the political courage to do it. I am proud of this Town Board for cleaning up the town’s debt. We are sowing the seeds which will reap a rich harvest for Riverhead. Stay tuned and stay positive.

Mr. Saladino is the town Conservative Party chairman and a part-time deputy town attorney.

11/30/10 8:35pm
11/30/2010 8:35 PM

The town supervisor is budget officer and chief financial officer of the town. As a former supervisor, I prepared several budgets that I submitted to the Town Board. Over my lifetime in Riverhead, I’ve watched supervisors before and after me do the same. But never before has the town seen a show like that put on this year by Supervisor Sean Walter and this Town Board.

Act I began Sept. 30 with the presentation of the supervisor’s budget, which called for the dismissal of 13 employees yet included a $70,000 increase to the supervisor’s personnel budget to insure continued employment of the supervisor’s campaign manager. The supervisor’s budget also included $170,000 in deferred compensation for elected officials, political appointees and department heads, items not disclosed in posted salaries.

Yet, Mr. Walter somehow failed to include in his budget $150,000 in mandated expenses for step increases required by contract for civil service employees and also failed to include over $200,000 for dispatcher salaries and benefits mandated by last years’ referendum. Despite his omission of these required expenses, the supervisor’s budget featured, in the midst of a painful recession, the highest tax increase of any town on Long Island.

Act II opened with the budget tragedy descending into farce. Between Sept. 30 and Nov. 20, many contentious budget meetings were held by the Town Board. Most noteworthy was the incivility of Town Board members to each other and to town employees pleading for their jobs. The highlight came when Mr. Walter refused to permit the president of the employee union, Bill Walsh, to speak at a public meeting. Here is where tragedy became farce when Mr. Walsh declared that Mr. Walter was a “Chickensh– for not allowing me to speak,” as reported by the News-Review.

Act III commenced as the all-Republican Town Board voted 4-1 against the supervisor’s budget but then failed to muster the necessary three votes to make any change to it. Months of budget meetings came to no purpose.

After the failed budget vote, the supervisor’s original budget became by default the town’s 2011 final budget. This budget is now law and features: (1) a missing $350,000 in mandated expenses ($150,000 for step increases; $200,000 for dispatchers); (2) $240,000 in unnecessary discretionary spending ($70,000 for the supervisor’s campaign manager and $170,000 in deferred compensation for elected officials, political appointees and department heads); (3) termination of employment for 13 town employees; (4) uncut salaries for elected officials, political appointees and department heads; (5) Long Island’s highest tax increase. Grievances and lawsuits are already under way.

Lingering tension among Town Board members continues, as reflected in Mr. Walter’s parting comment at the budget vote. “This was just a media circus,” he said. “This was a show put on by some council members just for the media.”

If this budget folly was indeed a show, as Mr. Walter suggests, it was one sorry performance for which our residents and 13 fired employees will pay dearly.

How about this for an alternative, happier ending? A budget without unnecessary spending, with mandated expenses included, 13 of our neighbors’ jobs saved, Long Island’s highest tax increase avoided and voluntary salary givebacks from elected officials, political appointees and department heads. (Recall that former supervisor Phil Cardinale gave $17,000 of his salary back to the town.)

There is a better way.

Mr. Villella is a former Riverhead Town supervisor and chairman of the town Democratic Committee.

11/22/10 5:49pm
11/22/2010 5:49 PM

There were statements that appeared in a News-Review article last week, “Cost to shift on big parties,” that invite scrutiny. It would be too much to comment on all of them. So let’s examine a few.
In the article, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is quoted as saying, “…because you’ve got too many vineyards and too many farmers abusing the situation.”
There are only four wineries that actually produce wine on their premises in the Town of Riverhead. There are also perhaps six tasting facilities, most of which also own a vineyard, for a total of 10 establishments. If Mr. Walter’s number of $50,000 worth of “excessive cost” to town taxpayers is correct, that is an average of $5000 per winery.
We at Paumanok Vineyards have seen the fire marshal once in the last two years,  to inspect a tent that had been erected, making sure there were fire extinguishers in the tent, an exit sign — for a tent with no walls — and that the extension cords used were commercial grade. That inspection, including driving time, took less than one hour. My guess is that this was worth $25 in overtime costs, if he was paid a $50 per-hour base pay, in two years.
At $1,000 per event, Mr. Walter would have to permit 125 events to gross $125,000. If currently the town is inspecting 125 events, the $50,000 excessive cost would amount to $400 per event. That translates into a rate of $800 per hour for the fire marshal, since the overtime portion is half an hour of extra pay  per hour worked on Saturday. I do not know the salary of the fire marshal but clearly this does not add up if the extra time is an hour per event.
If enacted, such a measure will essentially eliminate small events and foster the advent of big events with hundreds if not thousands of people. Because at 100 people, $10 per person is a large penalty, but at 1,000 people $1 per person is a rounding error. If that is what the Town Board wants then it is on the right track.
Now what about the vineyards. Are they in fact the nuisance the town seems to make them? Are the residents getting the short end of the stick? Would the town rather get rid of the vineyards and get those of us who are fed up with the creeping taxation decide to pull out our vines and extend Queens to the North Fork?
Wineries have been credited, by many who remember, to have revitalized the North Fork. They have created hundreds of good-paying jobs in this town. They pay already very high taxes as they require extensive facilities to operate. The bed & breakfast business has taken off largely thanks to the wineries. The restaurants are busier thanks to winery visitors, so are retail stores, gas stations, hotels, delis, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics etc. There is little question that vineyards have had a large positive impact on the local economy. Those who benefit from our industry should make their views known to Mr. Walter as he is embarking on a plan to raise taxes on small businesses.
Vineyards have kept hundreds of acres as agriculture, whereas it would be far more profitable to develop this acreage. For that alone, Mr. Walter should think instead about how to help vineyards stay in business, for his costs would go out of sight if a single vineyard is developed into housing.
Now let us discuss the real issues and what can be done about large parties — defined as parties with 100 guests or more — as Mr. Walter should have done.
• The money generated from the fees. At 125 events per season, it means that every winery and tasting room in the town of Riverhead will be having an event every weekend during the 12-week peak season. There is a single tasting facility where that actually happens; that will count for 12 events. The rest will hold one or two large events per season, each. That is a total of less than 30 events. Where are the remaining 95 events coming from? Is this a fee to recover costs or just an old fashioned tax? Or is the Town Board misinformed? Either way, the proposed $1,000 fees will not raise anywhere near the $125,000 predicted in the town’s 2011 budget.
• With the town complaint that wineries generate noise, the Blues and Mustic Festival downtown generates noise. Traffic generates noise. Parties in backyards of every house generate noise. Boom boxes in cars generate noise. Emergency vehicles generate noise. Corn mazes generate noise. Catering facilities generate noise when they hold outdoors weddings. Irrigation pumps generate noise. There is a noise ordinance on the books. Enforce it.
And how does charging an arbitrary fee make anyone suddenly lower their noise? Isn’t it about enforcing current noise regulations? Don’t violations carry substantial fees and don’t these pay for themselves?
• Mr. Walter was also quoted as saying, “the residents are getting the short end of the stick.” If that is true certainly it needs to be corrected. We have too much respect for our neighbors to be cavalier about something like this. Therefore I challenge Mr. Walter to be very specific and detail, by establishment, any instance where we have been so negligent. If there is an establishment that is abusive, why generalize and stigmatize a whole industry?  If he does not come up with specifics he should retract his statement.
Now, if Mr. Walter has a real problem and wants to craft intelligent solutions, why does he not invite the wineries and tasting facilities to a meeting? He should be prepared to present facts not innuendos and we should be prepared to own up to our problems where they exist. If we are to prosper we certainly need the support of our community. And if he has issues with a particular establishment that happens to be a “vineyard” then why does he not deal with that establishment with existing laws? Since when is accusing everyone for the sins of one is something we tolerate?
As the math above shows, it would appear Mr. Walter is making little sense. He has a choice to retract his statements or come out with specifics. We understand crafting a budget is difficult, but this town deserves better leadership — not cheap shots.

Mr. Massoud is the owner and operator of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue.

11/16/10 9:08pm
11/16/2010 9:08 PM

In last week’s News-Review Equal Time piece (“Supervisor Sean Walter fools only himself”), our former supervisor, Phil Cardinale, appeared to be confused as to why Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter was “happy” about the collapse of the Rechler Purchase of 300 acres at EPCAL. I would like to point out that I am also very happy to see the end of this contract. Rechler’s proposal to build nearly 1,000 housing units on 300 acres may have been Phil’s idea of industrial development, but I certainly didn’t think so. At the reduced price of $60,000 an acre, it would have been a home builder’s fantasy. Did that idiotic proposal qualify Rechler as the most experienced and best developer on Long Island? Phil should wake up! This project would not have created quality jobs in our town. This was a lose-lose proposition for Riverhead.

Now we will turn to another of the former supervisor’s giveaway deals gone awry. Our Town Board voted last Friday to terminate the contract with Riverhead Resorts. The group could not come up with a $6 million payment that was long overdue. Instead, Resorts representatives brought a check for the equivalent of $3.9 million in British pounds that was cancelled after a few days. Along with a price reduction from $155 million to $108 million, the developer wanted the contract extended to January 2012. With their struggle to produce a legitimate $3.9 million check, what makes anyone think they would ever be financially able to build the $2 billion ski mountain resort? These were not competent business people.

In response to Phil’s complaint about my “Great Walkout” on Riverhead Resorts, I will make it very clear that I had already met with them and their lawyers on numerous occasions over a 10-month period. I told them that if they couldn’t show me the money, I was done! When once again they showed up with no money, I stood up and said, “Enough is enough.” I would waste no more of our taxpayer money sitting through yet another publicity stunt. Any hardworking farm boy knows a horse thief when he sees one.

Phil made the deal with Riverhead Resorts and danced with the group for three years. The Resorts people made the mistake of saving the last dance for me. I walked out; the dance was over.

Dare we even talk about Phil’s failure with the Apollo Group and downtown? The former supervisor doesn’t know the definition of competence and sophistication during negotiations. Putting his failed follies behind us, we can now look to a bright future in the development of EPCAL. Working with an updated land-use plan, the Town Board can move in a different direction toward a well-thought-out subdivision. We can now realize the property’s real potential as an economic engine driving this town for generations to come.

Mr. Gabrielsen is a member of the Riverhead Town Board.